Music

Ilene Cutler / Courtesy of Verna Gillis

Roswell Rudd, a trombonist whose jubilant blare and yawping wit made him a singular fixture in the jazz avant-garde — as a bandleader, a member of The New York Art Quartet and a frontline partner for titans like saxophonist Albert Ayler — died on Friday morning at his home in Kerhonkson, N.Y.

Cem Kurosman

What defined the conversation around jazz this year? There’s no simple answer to that question, but trying is always a worthwhile struggle ­— especially in the company of my fellow jazz critics, who devote most of their waking hours to the subject.

John Rogers for NPR / johnrogersnyc.com

Every year around this time, the jazz community takes the measure of its highlights and bright moments — along with a tally of its losses.

 

And while it's true that important jazz artists leave us every year, 2017 was tougher than most. We bade farewell to avant-garde pioneers like Muhal Richard Abrams and Sunny Murray, genre-blending synthesists like John Abercrombie and Larry Coryell, and behind-the-scenes giants like Nat Hentoff and George Avakian.

This was an excellent year for jazz on record, across every possible iteration of style. (If you're seeking evidence for the claim, consult the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.) But it's always worth pointing out that albums only tell part of the story, which often assumes different dimensions at street level, where the music pulses in real time.

Courtesy of the artist

A couple of weeks ago, saxophonist Jeff Coffin called up two musician friends. His first question to them was simple: How would you like to make a Christmas album? His next question was a little more pressing: Are you free over the next few days?

Just two and half years ago, Stephen Bruner — the artist otherwise known as Thundercat — said he never thought his voice would ever overshadow his virtuoso six-string bass guitar playing. Then came Drunk, the standout album he released this year, which put his vocals and songwriting at the center of the frame. 


Kevin Mahogany, a big-voiced, broad-shouldered singer who dipped into the wellsprings of jazz, blues, pop and R&B during a career spanning three decades, died on Monday in Kansas City, Missouri. He was 59.

The news was announced by his niece, Lawrencia Mahogany, who confirmed his death to WBGO.

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In three-quarter profile, half-smiling at the camera over his elaborately tattooed shoulder, New Orleans trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, Jr. appeared on the cover of the April 2015 issue of the venerable Louisiana music monthly Offbeat.

Hear five standouts, handpicked by a few of WBGO's announcers. And don't miss our on-air holiday programming blitz, which kicks in on Christmas Eve. Stay tuned for a lot of swinging holiday music, and a few surprises.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Let's take a moment to remember the Chicago Jazz pianist Willie Pickens, who died last week at age 86.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Isaiah McClain / WBGO

Stacey Kent is always a delight, and one of the most worldly singers I know. She recently came to Newark to talk with me about her new orchestral album, I Know I Dream, and to sing some of the songs with her group. 

 


Jati Lindsay / Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

What are the holidays without Charlie Brown? Nowadays, the quietly elegant and celebratory recordings by pianist Vince Guaraldi have become as much a part of the holidays as the sound of unwrapping presents. And every year we are treated to at least one interpretation of that classic Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by one of the pianists on NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas. This year is no exception.

There is possibly no other single musician who has defined the state of Latin Jazz more than Eddie Palmieri, who turns 81 years old today.

Anna Yatskevitch

 

There are plenty of reasons to root for Ben Allison. He's a commanding bandleader, a virtuoso bassist, a proprietor of his own record label, and now an electric bassist and audio recording engineer. But the most impressive dimension to the artist is the artist himself — his songwriting especially.


Courtesty Jazz.org

Our partners at Jazz at Lincoln Center continue a beloved New York tradition with soulful renditions of holiday classics by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. 

Courtesy of NJMH

Four leading music critics representing a range of perspectives and publications will converge in this annual critics’ roundtable, hosted and moderated by Nate Chinen, the director of editorial content at WBGO. Along with Nate, the panel will include Giovanni Russonello, who writes about jazz for The New York Times; Michelle Mercer, an author and contributor to NPR; and Eugene Holley, Jr., who contributes to Downbeat, Publisher’s Weekly, and WNYC. They’ll discuss the issues, albums, artists, and standout moments that shaped jazz in 2017.

Paul Payabyab-Cruz

Jazz has generated more than its share of holiday staples throughout the years, from Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas to the Vince Guaraldi Trio finessing “Christmas Time is Here.” One sturdy recent addition to the canon has been Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O, by a smart, scrappy unit consisting of Jeff Lederer on reeds, Paul Sikivie on bass and Wilson on drums.

Juan Carlos Villarroel

It's hard not to feel overwhelmed by all of the young talent working in jazz today, many of whom reside in our backyard in New York City. Meanwhile, there are arguably more skilled musicians than ever playing the music outside the United States. Here are four mega-talented Dutch artists you may not know, but should.


Brooks Brothers

Take Five presents a roundup of five new holiday tunes, with a throwback bonus.

Frans Schellekens / Redferns/Getty

Sunny Murray, an improvising drummer who pioneered a radical and influential approach to rhythm, died on Thursday night in Paris. He was 81.

Kevin Millet

Leyla McCalla has traveled a winding path as a musician, from the European classical canon to the folkways of her Caribbean heritage. Born into a Haitian-American family in Queens, she was raised in Maplewood, and brought up in the New Jersey public school system. 


Nathan West

Julian Lage Trio, “Atlantic Limited”

Not too long ago, Julian Lage formed a first-rate trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen, casting it loosely in the image of a similar unit led by his chief guitar hero, Jim Hall. The band released its debut album, Arclight, last year, coming in for some just acclaim. Now there’s a follow-up on the horizon: Modern Lore, which Mack Avenue will release on Feb. 2.

Bex Wade

 Shirazette Tinnin is a versatile musician whose next album, Sonic Wallpaper, will highlight her individuality and spotlight her composing, including songs with her own lyrics. 

She’s a jazz-trained drummer whose influences range from Art Blakey to Sheila E. It was after seeing Sheila E. on TV, at age 4, that Shirazette decided that she wanted to play drums.

Jon Hendricks
Photo: Brian McMillen / www.brianmcmillenphotography.com

Jon Hendricks – By Monifa Brown

Keeping up with the cats
Always knowing what to scat
A wordsmith with gifts
Ohhh, how your gab uplifts 

Telling our story with love and glory
Making history without mystery
Monk, Horace and Duke knew
Bird and Basie too
Free rein to put your pen to the game
The Father of vocalese you did it with such ease 

Lawrence Sumulong / Jazz at Lincoln Center

More than three dozen acts have been added to the NYC Winter Jazzfest, finalizing the festival lineup for 2018. Among them are Nicholas Payton & Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, the vocal group Duchess, Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK, and the Eli Degibri Quartet. They will all appear on the Winter Jazzfest Marathon, a two-day crush of shows on Jan. 12 and 13. The festival itself sprawls to eight days, the longest edition yet, though with fewer groups performing than in 2017.

courtesy of the artist

Allan Harris is a classic crooner with considerable range. His new album, Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better, offers an extraordinary mix of songs from across the spectrum, from standards (“I Remember You,” “Moody’s Mood for Love”) to rock songs by Jimi Hendrix and Steely Dan to his own soulful originals.

He's also created a musical, Cross That River — the story of an ex-slave who became one of the black cowboys in the Wild West. Many of the cattle drovers after the Civil War were black, but we’ve rarely ever seen them in movies.

Rob Davidson / WBGO

Nominations for the 60th Grammy Awards were announced this morning. Here are the nominees in the Jazz field. Pianists Billy Childs and Fred Hersch are each multiple nominees, in the album and solo categories. So is saxophonist Chris Potter. Stay tuned to WBGO and wbgo.org for more commentary about the awards.

Jim Marshall / Jim Marshall Photography LLC

Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie were both born a century ago, in 1917. In their honor, here’s a heap of information about “‘Round Midnight,” a bedrock jazz standard whose evolution reflects their mutual regard.

Jean-Pierre Leloir

Holiday shopping, or a personal splurge? Here are five good reasons to spend your money.

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